Looking to see who might be next in line in the lightweight and featherweight divisions
The road leading up to UFC 136 held a great deal of promise, with the potential for clarity with in the contender ranks the greatest of those possibilities.
As can be expected in the organization that uses the tagline “Anything Can Happen,” sometimes you end up with overcast skies even when they’re predicting everything to be clear.
Both the lightweight and featherweight divisions have become increasingly competitive over the past year, and the road to the top is not clearly marked.
Here’s a look at who could be on the verge of making some championship noise in each of those divisions in the coming months.
In his victory over Gray Maynard this past Saturday, Frankie Edgar not only proved his heart and will are both ironclad, but removed any doubt about his standing as champion. Defeating B.J. Penn in back-to-back matches should have been enough, but after ending in a draw with Maynard at UFC 125, the questions resurfaced. That speculation was erased in grand fashion at UFC 136, and while his status as the king of the lightweight mountain is clear, who he’ll face next most certainly is not.
With funeral music seemingly playing for Strikeforce, UFC President Dana White has spoken openly about bringing the organization’s lightweight champion into the mix. The hitch is that Melendez has a bout scheduled in December against Jorge Masivdal, and there have been no indications either way as to whether or not it will still take place.
Should “El Nino” be added to the UFC roster, the only fight that makes sense right now is an immediate shot at Edgar’s crown. Any other match-up would be more risk than reward for both the Strikeforce champion and the UFC. Melendez burns to be recognized as the best lightweight fighter in the world; the winner of this bout would have no challengers to that title.
Clay Guida and Ben Henderson
Guida, the human version of the Energizer Bunny, has been on a tear as of late. Impressive victories over Takanori Gomi and former WEC champion Anthony Pettis pushed him to the top of the list of contenders.
Following his decision victory over Pettis, it appeared that Guida would have to get comfortable in line behind Jim Miller, but after Henderson ousted him in Milwaukee, the stage was set for what promises to be an action packed showdown. Should Guida find the answer for Henderson, a shot at the title seems likely.
The same goes for Henderson if he’s able to slow down Guida.
“Smooth” has lead the charge of former WEC standouts as they have earned legitimacy in the UFC. He has looked outstanding against Miller and Mark Bocek, two fighters who are tough outs for anyone in the division, and getting the call to face Guida serves as the UFC’s way of recognizing his efforts. Henderson’s pace typically breaks his opponents, and if he can find a way to outwork Guida in November, he should get next.
When the WEC was merged into the UFC, the reigning king of the blue cage was promised a title shot.
Following the New Year’s Day draw between Edgar and Maynard, Pettis decided he did not want to sit on the sidelines while the trilogy played out. This proved to be a costly decision for the young Milwaukee native, as Guida was able to take him down repeatedly, nullify his numerous weapons, and turning Pettis’ first appearance in the Octagon into a learning opportunity.
This past weekend, the Duke Roufus-trained fighter showed he hit the books hard following his loss to Guida, rebounding with a split decision victory over slugger Jeremy Stephens. Pettis showed he is willing to choose substance over style, using a wrestling-based attack to neutralize Stephens’ power punching, and keeping his flash contained to just a single capoeira kick at the close of the first round.
He showed maturity and a willingness to adapt against Stephens; both positive signs for a fighter who will have to overcome some serious wrestlers if he wants to make it to the top. While Pettis is at least another victory away from a title shot, he is certainly in the mix of contenders.
Some may be surprised to see Cerrone’s name on this list, but “Cowboy” has been on fire.
He has entered the UFC with a “anyone, anywhere, anytime” mentality and it has him knocking on the door of the upper tier. Cerrone has rattled off five consecutive wins — three since being added to the UFC roster — and his first round knockout of Charles Oliveira garnered well-deserved attention.
Never one to sit idle, Cerrone took the opportunity to replace Sam Stout and face surging German striker Dennis Siver at UFC 137. With a victory over Siver, it will be hard to deny Cerrone a place among the division’s elite.
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